One emerging home-grown terrorism trend included in a report released last week is the once nearly unthinkable threat of jihadist Americans launching suicide attacks within the country's own borders.
“I think the possibility of American suicide attacks cannot be dismissed,” Peter Bergen,a journalist and senior fellow at the New America Foundation,told the House Homeland Security Committee.
He joined other experts from the Bipartisan Policy Center who testified about their recently released report,”Assessing the Terrorist Threat.”
Stephen Flynn,president of the Center for National Policy,said al-Qaida has changed its tactics.
“It arises from a conviction that any terrorist attack,even a near miss,will generate a disproportionate political response that will help them achieve their particular objective,which is to sap the economic strength of the United States. In short,al-Qaida and its affiliates are shifting to a war of attrition,” Flynn said.
Intelligence since 2001 suggests that,while large coordinated strikes like those on 9/11 are less likely now,the plans al-Qaida is pursuing may be even more difficult to detect and defeat.
“It's the ‘lone wolf' kind of attack that is probably more likely to be brought forward,” Flynn said.
Committee members seemed to agree with the experts' analysis.
“We've scored great successes over the last nine years,but in response to that,al-Qaida has adjusted itself. I doubt that another 9/11 would be possible,certainly very unlikely. The fact is that we've seen a number of other attacks,which have either worked or have come close to working,” said Rep. Peter T. King,R-N.Y.,the committee's senior Republican member.
Rep. Bennie G. Thompson,D-Miss.,the committee chair,said that what is missing to counter the evolving threats is extending prevention and preparation from national to state and local levels.
“The problem is that terrorism is seen as a federal issue. So somehow we need to connect the dots,” Thompson said.
The testimony did reveal some benefits to changes in terrorist strategies. While “lone-wolf” attacks may be harder to detect,terrorists are less likely to deploy large and devastating methods such as dirty bombs.
“Terrorist interest in these unconventional weapons is actually rather small,” said Bruce Hoffman,a professor at Georgetown University's School of Foreign Service.
But not all of the testimony was positive.
“Americans need to be told that,by the law of averages,al-Qaida will get one through eventually,” Bergen said.